10 Things I Learned From My Dad, The Happiest Man in the World

This was written by my daughter Michelle, with help from her sister Danielle for Father’s Day. I thought I would share it with all of you.

Imagine my dad as Robin Williams in Good Will Hunting meets the Dude. He’s a psychologist and a part-time professor of Human Sexuality at local community colleges and a totally mellow, zen master who loves tennis, gardening, his doggies, loud music and optimal sound, home repairs, Napa Cabs and Zins, and the occasional White Russian. I am often asked what it’s like to have a therapist for a father, and my answer is usually “pretty awesome, I have an on-call counselor. I owe him a lot of money.” He’s not a shrink or a psychiatrist (a medical doctor who prescribes meds), he holds a Masters in Psychology from Berkeley and has practiced Marriage Family Therapy for over 40 years in Walnut Creek, California. Who goes to see a 24 year old therapist about their relationship and sex issues? No idea, but that was the 70’s in the Bay Area for you. He never analyzes me (to my face) or gives me unsolicited opinions or advice, he only helps me when I specifically ask him to turn on therapist mode. This is sometimes annoying as I usually just want him to tell me what to do unprompted, but that’s why I am so lucky to also have a badass judge for a mother whose job is to make rational, thought through decisions that drastically affect the lives of others. On top of that, she’s always put her family first and is the most nurturing, glamorous, protective, logical, funny and hard working mother anyone could have.

It took me a long time to realize the humor and balance in the dichotomy between law and psychology — one driven by logic and the other drive by emotion — but it certainly has shaped me in a very unique way and it cracks me up (and annoys my extremely patient loved ones) how my brain tries to sort things out. I am often made fun of for always changing my mind, but look at what I was brought up with? I can’t help it! It’s a constant boxing match between rational thought and feeling. If you ever want a weird experience, watch my sister (who is also a lawyer) and I get into an argument. Sorry to all of our mutual friends who have most certainly witnessed an epic Beaver sister fight.

I digress, it’s Father’s Day and I am finally motivating myself to do something creative while paying tribute to my favorite dad in the world, Dan Beaver. Despite spending hours listening to the emotional issues of his patients, my dad rarely lets it affect him. It’s pretty remarkable. He seems to ALWAYS be in a good mood, he gets a little disgruntled if he thinks he’s lost his glasses for the 100th time, but overall, the man is constantly happy. He truly is a role model and I strive very hard to emulate his spirit and outlook on life. He might be a little un-mellowed about me sharing his hard earned secrets, but he’ll definitely get over it.
Here are my interpretations of the Dan Beaverisms:

This is an inside joke between the two of us. When I was around 8 years old, my dad asked me to get him the broom from the closet when he was doing housework. I said, “no.” My dad was up on a ladder but I was a lazy* little shit and didn’t help him out. So he got off the ladder and retrieved it and on his return, he said to me, “remember the broom.” From that day forward, if I ever wanted him to do me a favor, he would always remind me of the broom. I guess this was my dad’s version of “Do unto others as you would have them do unto.” Regardless of the way you spin it, it’s always good to remember the broom, and make sure you help one on another out. I learned my lesson!

My dad stole this from a Ray LaMontagne song, but he likes to say it nearly every day, out loud, to remember to focus on the present moment. He is all about “the moment,” and makes sure he outwardly expresses the happiness he is feeling in those minutes. And when I would get in those funks where things are so intense I couldn’t avoid the icky feelings, he would always say, “go to bed because tomorrow will be a better day.” Miraculously, that usually worked and it worked extra good when I had ice cream to boot.

Or to flip it into a more positive spin, hold on to your power. Believe it or not, I was heavily made fun of for having Beaver as my last name. Shocking, right? I used to take the sneers and the laughing so personally, especially when attendance was called in class, it was THE WORST. I used to come home upset and my dad would say, “why are you giving these dumb kids the power to make you feel this way, don’t let them take your power.” And as an 11 year old, hormonal girl, I was like, what the hell is this old hippie man talking about and it didn’t really help for a while. I would fight and get defensive and was so jealous of anyone whose last name was Smith or Jones. But a few years later, in high school, with the help of my big sis, we took the power back and OWNED our names. We both ran for high school student government and draped posters of “Believe in the Beav,” “Vote for Beaver, she Gives a Dam,” and a poster of an actual cartoon Beaver all over our school halls. It was sort of badass and I am proud of our little teenage selves for doing it. People could make fun of me all they wanted, but it didn’t matter because I was proud of who I was and I really love it when people call me by my last name now, it’s weird to be called Michelle. I know this is a trivial example, but remembering that other people have no right or “power” to make you feel less than happy about yourself, is an incredible thing to learn.

Throughout my life and especially in my career, I have experienced several “throw the apron on the ground moments,” as I like to call them. Or in other words, I sometimes get so angry, my first impulse is to react and confront. Yes, I can be a little volatile especially when I feel disrespected, but I have my dad’s voice in my head to “rise above” whenever I get in these situations. More hippie shit, yes, but it reminds me to take the high road. No good will come from me erupting or confronting people who won’t be receptive to the confrontation. The other day, I saw a man walking around my neighborhood wearing a shirt with a gun on it, a few days after the Orlando shootings. I so badly wanted to tell him how disrespectful that shirt was to those who were affected by that tragedy. I actually had to tell myself to rise above the anger and the hate, because all that man would do is yell right back at me which would just upset me more, and it would do no good to confront someone not actually looking for a healthy debate. It would just end up upsetting the both of us and there is no pay-off or resolution in the long run.

This one makes me laugh every time my dad says it because it’s so obvious, but I forget it so often when I’m stuck in a moment of indecision. I use this one on my friends a lot too when they are mysteriously feeling down about something. We often don’t want to look at what’s right in front of us — we don’t want to break down stuff to black and white, but it’s always the easiest path. This is a key aspect of the therapy my dad practices, cognitive behavioral, or at least I think it is :) Before you can change your attitude, you need to really break down what is the force stopping you from doing what you want.

6. SET BOUNDARIES (and there are no shoulds)
This is probably one of the most important of the dad-isms. It is imperative to set boundaries in your relationships, whether it’s family, love, or work, you absolutely cannot survive if you don’t make sure you are comfortable. For example, my Euro friends often ask me why Americans don’t take all of their vacation days. It’s impossible for them to understand. I think it’s because, as a culture, we worry we’ll look bad or lazy* if we take time for ourselves, especially, disconnecting from our hyperconnected world. And as my dad would say, fuck looking bad, because the most important thing is looking out for numero uno. When you (fingers crossed) retire, you won’t look back on your life and wish you worked harder, you’ll wish you created a life that made you happy, first and foremost.
When my sister calls me and asks me if she should go out even if she doesn’t feel like it, I remind her of our father and tell her there are no such thing as the shoulds. Do what’s best for you and what makes you feel the most comfortable. Should is whatever arbitrary pressure you have on yourself and as an adult, you either want to or you don’t want to. Simple as that.

I’m in a generation that is very individualistic and my peers are constantly worrying about the future and making the right choices. As I mentioned early, my least favorite thing to do is make a decision as I fret about weighing all the pros and cons until I beat it to death. I am someone who has moved back and forth between the US and London FOUR times because I could never decide which I preferred. I remember discussing the idea of moving back to the US with my dad in 2010 after I’d been studying and working in the UK for 4 years. He asked me what my goal was, where did I see myself and what would be the best personal growth opportunity. If I continued to stay in London, how would I make that work in my best interest and in vice versa in the US.
My guilt of being far away from home was driving me back to the US, but also, even more powerfully, I realized I really wanted a change of direction in my career. And at that point in my life, that goal was paramount. Conversely, when I moved back to London again in 2013, my biggest goal was taking care of my personal development as I missed my social community back in the UK. I received quite a bit of criticism over moving to London for the millionth time, but I knew that it would be a major growth opportunity for me to feel personally satisfied again. I don’t regret any of these decisions one bit because they all brought me to something new and different and I am so fortunate to have that support along the way.

My dad says this Scoop Nisker quote all the time. It’s pretty straightforward, but the gist is to make sure you are having a good time in life, but remember the consequences and take responsibility for your actions. In other words, don’t have a good time at the expense of someone else, but definitely have fun and enjoy life while you have it!!

9. CHILL (What are you gonna do?)
In high school, my family’s Sunday night tradition was watching the Sopranos on HBO. Definitely not a family friendly show but we always liked watching TV that either featured lawyers or psychologists. My dad loved the scenes between Dr. Melfi and Tony Soprano as Tony was battling anxiety and depression. The issues Tony deals with are a bit extreme compared to what my father usually sees in his office, but the way Melfi handled him was not much different than a regular Joe. One has to accept in life, sometimes there will just never be resolution until you learn to let go of control. Tony eventually learned to chill and his famous heavy breathing Jersey catchphrase was “well, what are you gonna do?”
When my dad (rarely) gets frustrated by something, he usually ends the complaint, or kvetch, with “eh, what are you gonna do?” And he leaves it. It’s gone in the air. I feel like this falls under the combo religion of Ju-Bu (Judaism/Buddhism). It feels really good to have a nice long kvetch and then accept that you have no control over the situation. Once my good friend said to my father she was afraid she was going to be single forever and die alone, and my dad’s response was, “what’s wrong with that, would you rather bring someone down with you?” We just laughed because, eh, what’re you gonna do?

This line just reminds me of my dad skiing down a slope with his poles in the air yelling “Let Your Freak Flag Fly!” as a pizza pied down the mountain in trepidation. Own your quirks, awkward moments, and embarrassing memories, because those things make us unique and special. Plus, he always like to remind us that it doesn’t matter what other people think about you, you should feel free to express yourself and let your flag fly however the hell you want it. Let your freak flag fly!!!

He’ll correct me if I don’t put his caveat, my dad will always say, “laziness doesn’t exist, it’s just lack of motivation.”